Friday, August 26, 2016

Some questions about Bernie Sanders Our

I went to a Northwest Philly live-streamed event with Bernie Sanders to get answers to two questions about his new organization,Our Revolution. First, was Bernie’s revolution going to focus on electing progressives at the grassroots? Democrats have never been very good at this; the Republicans have been much better at the long game. In the 1980s, political analysts were remarking on the skill with which what was then called the “New Right” focused on the grassroots—-the party infrastructure at the precinct level as well as low-profile local offices such as school board elections. The right-wing focus on grassroots electoral politics has continued with the Tea Party, the 21st century incarnation of the radical right, wasting no time getting its members elected to political office.

Sanders understands the importance of building from the bottom up and Our Revolution involves just such dedication to the unglamorous work of building a progressive infrastructure at the grassroots. He described those who enlist in his political revolution as: “people who will be fighting at the grassroots level for changes in their local school boards, in their city councils, in their state legislatures and in their representation in Washington.” He answered my first question.

My second question: Is Our Revolution an effort to move the Democratic Party to the left much as the Tea Party yanked the Republican Party to the far right? There is division within the Sanders coalition, with some wanting to build an alternative to the Democratic Party and others wanting to build the progressive wing of the party. Sanders largely ignored this divide. He spoke of supporting progressive candidates--not necessarily Democrats.

In an interview with Amy Goodman’s Democracy NOW, Larry Cohen, the Chair of the Board of Our Revolution suggested that a primary goal was reform of Democratic Party but that the group would also support non-Democrats:

Again, what we will manage and support are these networks of people that are pushing to reform the Democratic Party, as I mentioned, at the state level, like a Jane Kleeb, at the local level, independents like two candidates running for the Richmond, California, City Council—in many cases, Democrats, in many cases, not.

It is possible to focus on reform of Democratic Party and also, because of the circumstances of a particular election, support an Independent. However, there was no acknowledgement of the existence of any tension between the two approaches nor any indication how the Sanders revolution envisioned balancing these potentially conflicting goals.

The Our Revolution website lists the candidates Sanders is supporting without mentioning their party affiliation. As far as I can tell, they are Democrats, but the failure to identify them as such suggests that Sanders is reaching out to progressives who may not want to work within the Democratic Party.

I want the “political revolution” based in the Democratic Party--at this point that seems the surest path to building a winning coalition. At some point the current party configuration will change and we are certainly overdue for a realignment. The last time this occurred was in 1854 when the Republican Party supplanted the Whig Party. Eventually we will have something other than D’s and R’s but I don’t see this on the horizon in the near future.

There is another compelling reason for Sanders to base the revolution in the Democratic Party. Any new party would be overwhelmingly white. Many African Americans have deep loyalty to the Democratic Party and recently this has become the case among Latinos and Asian Americans. And yes the Sanders coalition has support among people of color, but at this point nowhere near enough support to build the kind of progressive movement Sanders envisions. A winning progressive coalition must be multi-racial/multicultural and that coalition can most easily be forged within the Democratic Party.

In many places the local Democratic Party is ripe for takeover. In Philadelphia the Democratic Party machine is a shadow of its former self and can best be understood as a group of often competing machines rather than as a monolith. Nonetheless, even in its weakened state, the Party machine still has an infrastructure of ward leaders and committeepersons. However, there will be opportunities for significant change as the party is currently staffed by ward leaders and committeepersons already in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. The current configuration cannot last much longer. And as I argue in Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party,changing that infrastructure, although a long, slow process, is arguably easier than building a competing structure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sometimes the best vacation trips are just visiting old friends!

Sometimes the best vacation trips are just visiting old friends. At this stage of life, many of my friends are no longer doing long distance driving. Since we’re still able to do it, we’re the ones who have to reach out. We just returned from New England to visit old friends in Cambridge MA--Rick’s old friend from first grade(!!) Norman and his wife Fran. They have been living the past 40 years in a house in Cambridge crammed with books. Norman is no longer much interested in travel but through a world of books he is roaming the world. It raises interesting questions: who is the real traveler: someone on a packaged tour to China or Norman at home in Cambridge currently immersed in Chinese literature?

After Cambridge, we went to Vermont to visit an old friend of mine, Bob and his wife Susan who is now a good friend of mine and Rick’s.
One of the benefits of long term marriage is that my friends become Rick’s friends and vice versa. (Exceptions, of course). My friendships don’t go back almost 70 years like Rick’s. My oldest friends go back to the my college years and I’ve know Bob for over 40 years. He is still working and has a very demanding job, so it’s easier for us to visit him and Susan. They have a beautiful house about a half hour from Burlington VT with a pond, many acres of land, and a gorgeous garden which Susan designed.

I envy Susan her vast canvas that she can fill with plants. My garden has reached capacity and I can only cram in another plant if one dies—-which my plants obligingly do on a regular basis. However much as I love the beauty of rural Vt., I could not give up urban life. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The stars of my mid-August garden


August is a difficult month for gardeners—so much death and disease in the garden and sometimes I’m tempted to just give up. My garden is mainly spring and early summer shrubs and perennials. August is the time sun-loving annuals come into their own, but I don’t have too many of those—-mainly because I don’t have much full sun.

The full sun I do have is largely devoted to summer blooming bulbs like Dahlias which keep going until frost. True it’s necessary to dig them up and they are not the easiest bulbs to winter over but they are worth all the trouble.One of my favorite summer bulbs is Acidanthera AKA Abyssinian Gladiolus summer which is easy to grow and generally disease free:

The there are dazzling white species lilies--the last of the lilies:

Although my garden is at its best in Spring and early Summer, I do have some perennials which reliably bloom in August, such as the rudbeckia(variety unknown) which was here when we moved here decades ago; it has probably been flourishing in this garden for 50-60 years.

There’s also Rudbeckia Herbstone, the tallest of all, which is slowly taking over the garden.

I used to have a whole lot of pink and white phlox which blended beautifully with the gold of the rudbeckia, but a vicious groundhog has destroyed my phlox for 3 years in a row. It’s time to cut my losses and dig up the phlox.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is drinking wine the key to a happy marriage?

According to a recent report in The Journals of Gerontology: “Researchers found that couples who drink wine together say they are happier over time. Wives reported they were happier when their husbands drank wine and less happy when they didn't.” Wine, it turns out, could be one ingredient for a happy marriage.

I always believed this to be case but it’s nice to have scientific validation. Rick and I have been sharing a bottle of wine just about every night for the past 36 years. My guess is the reason it contributes to a good marriage is that wine forces you to slow down. You don’t rush through your meal when you are having wine with dinner. And that means you talk to each other. It’s an investment in your marriage.

I have seen couples over the ears immersed in their careers who thought they could tend to their marriage later on, but it usually doesn’t work that way; sometimes when a marriage is neglected there is no later on.

So Rick and I will keep drinking wine as long as we can, and when we are too old or sick, let’s hope there will be legalized marijuana for our old age.